Lessons Learned from New England Patriots, Bill Belichick's 2012 Draft Strategy
The New England Patriots under Bill Belichick have been predictably unpredictable when it comes to the NFL Draft. Oh, there have been patterns, like trading down and having a "unique" board, but when it comes right down to it, no one can reliably nail the Patriots picks and draft day moves. However, that doesn't mean that we can't learn anything about how Belichick thinks by analyzing his draft in hindsight. It just means that we can't deduce anything that can tell what he'll do in the future based on what he's done in the past. Let's take a look back at that near past.
The Patriots never trade up in the first round...until they do
Well, until 2012. Belichick traded up twice in the first round, gutting the middle of a draft that already saw the Patriots without a fifth, sixth, and seventh round pick after trading them away in previous deals. Belichick's desire to get Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower was so strong that he left himself with only a pair of second round picks after the trade-ups.
The thrust of the move was clear. The Patriots had a terrible defense last year. Jones and Hightower are big, versatile, athletic players who can give the front seven an identity. They are also great fits for a defense that asks its players to be role diverse.
Belichick may never trade up in the first round again. He might get a taste for it and start making it a habit. What this result showed us is that while Belichick has tendencies in the draft, you can never rule anything out.
The Patriots player evaluations can be outliers compared to the rest of the league
Every year it seems like there is at least one player the Patriots take three or four rounds before their consensus ranking in the draft community. This year, in the second round, they took Tavon Wilson, a defensive back from Illinois. Wilson was not invited to an all-star game or the combine. He doesn't have any outstanding physical attributes. He was rated as a sixth or seventh-round pick at best by draft analysts.
The selection of Wilson probably comes down to two things the Patriots stress over other organizations: Wilson's versatility to have played both corner and safety for the Illini, and his maturity as a team captain.
Belichick is a flexible, thorough realist
After executing the two first-round trade ups and nabbing Wilson with the pick the Patriots got for a 2011 third and fourth from the Oakland Raiders, Belichick shifted his focus to getting back in the third day of the draft. He only had a second-round pick left in his arsenal.
The Patriots dropped from the end of the second all the way to the end of the third when they swapped picks with Green Bay to gain a fifth-round pick in the process. Earlier in the round, the New York Jets paid the same price plus a seventh-round pick to move up only four spots. The Patriots moved down 28 spots from 62 to 90 and lost badly on the pick value chart in the process, but they had no choice unless they wanted to dip into their 2013 pick allotment.
Belichick then turned Green Bay's fifth-round pick into a sixth and two sevenths in a trade with... Green Bay. It was clear from the second day that the Packers were willing to spend picks to move up after they entered the draft with 13 picks and gave up two picks in each of two second-round trade up deals.
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